ESPERANCE sheep farmer Belinda Lay will be among some esteemed company when she vies for the 2019 AgriFutures Rural Woman of the Year Award in Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory, tonight.
Ms Lay is one of seven finalists in the running for the prestigious national title, set to be announced at a gala dinner at Parliament House next Wednesday.
She was named the WA Rural Woman of the Year in August and will use a $10,000 bursary for a project based on using the Internet of Things that involves the geospatial tracking of sheep with the help of specially designed collars likened to fitbits.
The project is designed to provide real-time information about the location, temperature and activity of sheep, using specially designed collars imported from Spain.
"The farmer is able to locate the animal by using Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking," Ms Lay said.
"The technology also gives them the opportunity to locate their sheep at any time, to know where they are grazing or seeking shelter and obviously it's a really important tool during lambing.
"As a farmer of sheep for over 20 years, I have tried different tactics to reduce mortality rates, particularly in lambing ewes and post-weaners and this technology could assist in this process and take ewe and lamb survival to the next level."
Ms Lay said tracking sheep in this way had many potential applications across all livestock, including cattle, pigs, goats and even horses.
The technology builds an algorithm using the animal's activity and temperature and then compares it to other animals in the flock.
If one animal then behaves outside of normal limits, a text message can alert the farmer and action can then be taken.
"I have affectionately called it a fitbit for sheep because they wear it wherever they go and it has the ability to transmit so much information about the animal, which is of huge benefit to the farmer and their overall management of stock," Ms Lay said.
"Humans have adopted fitbits to monitor bodies in real time - so why can't we do the same thing for livestock?
"I hope this project changes the way livestock and technology is viewed, which has been mainly concentrated around manual handling.
"Sheep are the most undervalued agronomist on the farm, so now we are working on ways to collect the information and feedback that they can provide to us about our paddocks, and potentially improve animal welfare outcomes."
The other finalists in the running for the top honour are Deanna Lush (South Australia), Claire Moore (Victoria), Anh Nguyen (Tasmania), Zoe Malone (Northern Territory), Natasha Roebig (Queensland) and Jo Palmer (NSW/ACT).
AgriFutures Australia managing director John Harvey said the Rural Woman of the Year Award was about acknowledging and supporting the essential role women play in rural business, industries and communities.
"The event is an important step in acknowledging the contribution of these outstanding and inspirational women," Mr Harvey said.
"The night is a celebration of their hard work and commitment and we are looking forward to showcasing their stories to the nation.
"In 2019, the award turns 21 and will see an alumni of more than 300 women who continue to support each other, their communities and industry."
Applications for the 2020 AgriFutures Rural Women's Award open Thursday, September 12, 2019.
The official media partner for the event is the publisher of Farm Weekly, Australian Community Media's Agricultural Publishing and Events.
- More information: agrifutures.com.au/people-leadership/rural-womens-award/